Italy is full of some of the world’s finest foodie hotspots. From the creamy risottos of Lombardy to the legendary pizzas of Naples, every province has a long list of impossibly delicious local specialties that have to be eaten to be believed. Along with the art, the buildings and the weather, dining is the ultimate excuse to book a flight to the Italian peninsula. Trips don’t get any tastier.
Even though Italy’s food folklore is rich enough to fill an entire encyclopedia, there’s one dish that has really risen above the rest to cement itself as the ultimate, omnipresent pasta-based comfort bowl. Ask anyone what they’d like to make midweek with a pack of beef mince and a tin of tomatoes on hand and there’s a strong likelihood that they will answer “spaghetti Bolognese”. This is with good reason.
As anyone who’s ever eaten it will agree, spag Bol is delicious. A slow cooked meaty sauce rich with onions, celery, alcohol and stock, Bolognese is hefty, hearty and uniquely appealing to the palate of almost every nation on earth. You’ll find families making their take on the classic recipe everywhere from the UK, to America, to New Zealand. It’s been keeping the world well-fed for decades. Though different traditions tweak the formula, the recipe remains alluring and all-conquering. This makes it all the more upsetting to discover that our beloved spaghetti Bolognese is not actually a real dish at all.
The news comes not from a fun-hating food historian, but from none other than the Mayor of Bologna himself. For years, the Italian town which lends its name to the infamous sauce has been swamped with tourists begging for a bowl of traditional “spag Bol”. And, for years, frustrated Italian waiters have been tersely informing them that there never has, and ever will, be a Bolognese dish combining meat ragu and spaghetti. Both sides typically end up baffled and disappointed.
Now, in an attempt to clear up the cultural mess, Mayor Virginio Mayoral has launched an online campaign to inform the world that they’ve been getting his city’s food wrong for years. In a February tweet, Mr Mayoral stated, “Dear residents, I am collecting photos of spaghetti Bolognese from around the world (speaking of fake news). This one is from London, please send me yours.” He has since received dozens of replies from disgruntled Bolognese, revealing mislabelled dishes everywhere from Austria to the USA.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Mayoral revealed why he was so frustrated with the spaghetti situation. “It is strange to be famous all over the world for a dish that isn’t ours,” he told the newspaper, adding, “Of course we are happy that it draws attention to our city, but we would prefer to be known for the quality food that is part of our culinary tradition.” He also revealed how, as part of a plan to reveal the truth behind Bolognese, he is collecting examples of incorrect pasta from around the world for exhibition in the city’s new food museum - “FICO Eataly World”.
Depressing though it is to discover that some of our favourite childhood food memories have been based on a lie, Mayoral and other Bologna locals have offered some helpful advice. They state that, as one of the world’s chunkier pasta sauces, ragù alla Bolognese should instead be served with thicker noodles, such as tagliatelle. It might initially be hard to stomach, but if we all follow this advice and we’ll probably find that our midweek pasta improves dramatically.